Charity Independent Age said that almost twice as many women aged 65 and over found feelings of loneliness to be the most difficult issue to overcome following bereavement, compared to men of the same age.
Yet while more than half (53%) of women were able to speak to friends about their feelings, just one in three men (35%) felt the same way.
To help people support their grieving loved ones through tough times, the charity has released a series of dos and don’ts for interacting with those whose spouses have died.
Independent Age’s survey of more than 2,000 people aged 65 and over found that when it came to looking after themselves following a loved one’s death, just one in five made sure they were getting enough sleep and fewer than one in four made an effort to eat healthily.
Janet Morrison, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We know that it’s really important to open up about the death of a loved one and not keep things bottled up or try to remain stoic. Everyone deals with grief in their own way and for some people, feelings of grief will never completely go away.
“There’s no one way or set amount of time to grieve, but we would urge older people to reach out for help and support if they need it.”
For those who haven’t experienced loss firsthand, it can be difficult to know how is best to help a grieving family member or friend. To tackle the issue, Lucy Harmer, director of services at Independent Age, has issued some dos and don’ts for lending support.
1. Be available – Let them know you’re there for them and happy to listen. Sometimes it helps just to have company, even if they don’t want to talk.
2. Talk to them – Try to encourage them to talk, but don’t pressure them if they don’t want to. It’s a good idea to acknowledge the death the first time you see the person afterwards to give them an opportunity to talk.
3. Listen – If they do want to talk, just listen and don’t try to change the subject. Talking is very important for someone who has been bereaved and it may help if you allow them to express their emotions.
4. Offer practical help – Sometimes the best thing you can do is offer to help with something specific, rather than just telling them to ask you if they need anything. You could offer to help with the cleaning, cook them a healthy meal or contact people about the funeral.
5. Help them look after themselves – Stress can make people more vulnerable to illness. Suggest they contact their GP if it seems appropriate. If they’re worried about their income, people aged 65 and over can get in touch with Independent Age (0800 319 6789) to find out if they would be eligible to receive any benefits.
1. Lose contact - Many bereaved people find that they can be left without support after the funeral, so try to call them or visit them from time to time to check how they are. Anniversaries and other special occasions might be especially difficult so offer to spend the day with them if they would like or give them a call.
2. Make assumptions – Everyone reacts to grief differently and takes a different amount of time to overcome feelings of grief. Don’t assume you know how they feel.
3. Judge them – Allow them to express themselves. They may be overwhelmed and be experiencing a range of emotions, for example anger or anxiety. This is all perfectly normal and strong emotions generally lessen over time.
4. Impose your own views – Saying things like “I know how you feel”, “they’ve gone to a better place” or “they had a good long life” can seem dismissive or insensitive, and may not reflect how they’re feeling.
5. Worry about getting it wrong – People need support after they’ve been bereaved and avoiding them or avoiding the topic of death can leave them feeling very alone. It’s usually better to do something than nothing – take your cues from them, but don’t let concern about what to say prevent you from being there to support them.